/// the hand of greed

by John Urquiza

“The Hand of Greed” also refers to the “Six Fingers of Gentrification” campaign that intertwines with the “YOU” series. The visual six-fingered hand serves as the outline of the violence of gentrification, while “YOU”, the type-based poster design (YOU 2017) provides the visceral lived experiences. After a year of so many mass displacements, the first iterations of the “YOU” narrative were developed in May of 2017, signaling a shift from the “Gentrified” series (gentrified!) of 2014. As a primer and almost surface view of the issue, the “Gentrified” series discussed the loss of cultural icons as the primary negative effect of gentrification. The six fingers presents a more broad understanding of the consequences of gentrification and illustrates the potent protest board’s message, “gentrification is a land grab disguised as revitalization”. The Hand of Greed offers not just a segue from abstract to literal, but also six paths to the source of trauma.

panel no. 1 from flour + water.

Those six points of tenants rights, homelessness, land use and planning, discrimination and criminalization of BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of color), theft of culture and loss of businesses and the health consequences are an outline of the devastation ravaging the communities of Northeast Los Angeles as well as the battlefronts that organizers rally around. 

the destroyer of communities 

The Marmion Royal Tenants Union was formed in 2016 to fight the evictions of fifty-seven families from their Highland Park building. While marching to Councilmember Cedillo’s office, the families and activists demanded an end to “no-fault evictions”. 

While in 2015, more than two hundred people were subject to homeless sweeps in seventy-five encampments along the Arroyo Seco. After being swept multiple times many of the encampments have moved back into the Arroyo with an entirely new population.

Recognizing incidents like the Marmion and the Arroyo as commonplace, the state debated rent control a few years later. Some senators began launching campaigns for what they called land use reform, although many community members recognized these efforts as aiding developers. Eventually, one proposal made some sense, but now that it is enacted TOC or Transit Oriented Communities developments are devastating poor communities and communities of color. 

The fourth on our list has touched all of NELA. As USC expands its campus and attracts luxury hotels and student housing, local youth living in the housing projects fear with good reason an increased police presence. While in bedroom communities new residents form neighborhood watches that further persecute people of color and long time residents. 

Monitoring the Facebook feed of anti-gentrification groups, you can see how the businesses are disappearing and being replaced by newer creative economy businesses. While liberal, white populations acknowledge all these points and declare their support for Black Lives Matter, they simultaneously fail to see their role in the racism of gentrification as they are still benefiting from the exploitation. 

The last finger of the hand is often silent, invisible. The health effects of gentrification have not been fully understood in many discussions of the issue despite the connection between gentrification and higher mortality rates for the elderly and poor. Nor can the local government and planning boards comprehend how housing insecurity perpetuates the existing conditions of alcoholism, domestic abuse and poverty. The agitation prevents the healing of those traumas and is eventually passed on to the next generation.

(l) tenants from the marmion royal rent strike marching on councilman cedillo’s office, c.2016. // (m) the family that rented this house on avenue 57 was displaced and the land sold to a developer who built five luxury homes with car elevators, c.2016. // (r) jesse and his three sisters living in the arroyo seco after they lost their grandmother’s home to predatory lending, c.2015.

on the backs of others greatness

The symbolic hand of this series is an homage to early design and resistance movements. Its inspiration or DNA can be found in the Dadist, pre-World War Two publication AIZ, Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung translated the Workers’ Illustrated Newspaper. Graphic artist and Dadist John Heartfeld’s photo collages critiqued, if not challenged outright the growing power of fascism in pre-war Germany. In his poster illustration The Hand Has Five Fingers c.1928, he selected the final hand photo from hundreds taken at a political rally. Heartfeld used the symbol as a tool to communicate the power of the people, giving them license to act. “With these 5 Grab the Enemy!” 

john heartfeld, c.1928.

Local laws governing rent control and development illustrate the associations between fascism and land injustice. California is one of the most liberal states in the US, yet it only has about 18 cities with some form of rent control. The Rent Stabilization Ordinance in Los Angeles protects only 69% of the rental units. Developers and wealthy investors are allowed to run roughshod over communities. In and around Northeast Los Angeles we have historical examples such as the racist destruction of Sonoratown, a Mexican urban community of adobe structures during the start of the 20th Century that was razed for use as industrial yards, the three communities of Chavez Ravine known as La Loma, Bishop and Palo Verde that were erased and eventually replaced by the LA Dodgers, and around the same time of America’s urban renewal we saw the destruction of Bunker Hill: a Latino, Filipino, indigenous and LGBTQ neighborhood that is now Los Angeles’ financial district filled with art museums, an opera house and skyscrapers. 

The “Hand of Greed” refers not only to home flippers, multi-unit investors, carpet bagging real estate agents, luxury developers and landlords. It is a subtle non-threatening grasp demonstrating how this economic fascism has crept into the mainstream. Heartfeld’s visual strategy was to build up unity with his Five Fingers, Naguals’ foreboding message wants you to recognize and acknowledge the threat. The visual subtly reveals its intent, while the text holds the rationale and warns us of the low level sustained violence to follow. Today in NELA the threat has grown into three major development plans: The LA River Revitalization Plan, the CASP, Cornfield Arroyo Specific Plan and the USC Biotech Corridor (currently rebranded Life Sciences Campus Expansion) surrounding the southern borders of NELA.

history lesson

The violence Heartfeld faced was unimaginable, but it all started with hate, persecution and the same aggressions such as the seizing of land and businesses and the erasure of culture. Effective design relies on a core visual language based on the human experience. The symbolism Heartfeld created reached into the twenty-first century with a historical warning. Naguals uses the influence of the past to inform its creative output. In the poster “Drug War” c.2002 (walgreens), the helicopters are inspired and appropriated from painter Rupert Garcia’s 1989 poster “¡Fuera de Panama!” Garcia conjures the memory of the Vietnam War and reminds us of injustice and the right to sovereignty. Naguals applies it to the corporate invasions on the small town existence of Eagle Rock. You see Garcia look to the past again in another painting, “Striking Mexican Worker” 1979 “Obrero en Huelga, Ascesinado” (Worker on Strike, Murdered). He reaches back to a 1902 black and white photograph by Manuel Alvarez-Bravo covering a communist rally. Garcia uses Bravo’s imagery to speak to a very specific audience about the student uprising of Mexico City during that time. They are not only phrases in the visual language we recycle and reuse, but they serve to remind us how far away we are from justice and what we still need to do.

(l) rupert garcia, c.1979 // (r) manuel alvarez-bravo, c.1902.

Gentrification is expanding across the country and globe. It is the telltale sign of economic inequity. To meet the demands of fighting it effectively local organizers must also adapt. Naguals must adapt its message. The various Naguals campaigns Six Fingers, evolved to communicate with the diverse demographics in Northeast Los Angeles. In Lincoln Heights Spanish is spoken by 63% of the population. Chinatown is just next door and another 8% in Lincoln Heights speak Mandarin. Tagalog was required in the northernmost part of NELA in Eagle Rock whose residents are one third Filipino. While each community faces different waves and “gentrifiers”, the six fingers lays out a path to understanding threats as they emerge. 

most recent iterations of the six fingers of gentrification, naguals press c.2021.

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/// richard riordan: menace to society

by Grace Hut

In 1993, Richard Riordan, a Republican multi-millionaire with ambitions to privatize the City of Los Angeles, was elected mayor. Riordan was one of the city’s high profile boosters who saved the iconic Pantry Café that has been open continuously since 1924 from a wrecking ball. When the city’s main library was torched by an arsonist, Riordan stepped in with donations and fundraising. He had also worked tirelessly to bring football back to Los Angeles. But against the backdrop of increasingly neoliberal economic policies aimed at creating favorable conditions for private, corporate interests, Riordan’s election stirred concern about the introduction of big money into local politics. How much influence would this popular Republican have over the feudal system that is the Los Angeles City Council? Who would the city come to belong to? 

charter reform campaign c.1997

One of Riordan’s most influential initiatives was his campaign to reform the 1925 City Charter. The charter reform campaign was in large part a response to secession movements taking place in Los Angeles, particularly in the San Fernando Valley. There, residents and community organizations felt that the San Fernando Valley wasn’t getting a fair share of Los Angeles’ resources and political attention, and sought to establish the valley as a separate city to achieve increased local autonomy and responsiveness from the government. Riordan spearheaded the response to the secession movements with an idea to reform the City Charter and establish neighborhood councils—localized advisory bodies made up of locally elected members with no legislative powers—to incorporate community perspectives into government. Other parts of the charter reform included increasing mayoral power by granting mayors the ability to dismiss city department general managers, as well as establishing neighborhood planning commissions with power over most zoning decisions, subject to City Council review.

Riordan and his allies, largely composed of wealthy executives, investors and appointees to the Fire and Police Commissions, raised over one million dollars to push voters to support the charter. It was within this context, amid fear of wealth and elitism influencing the future of the city, the Naguals Press formed and began wheatpasting posters in critique of Riordan’s actions. The charter reform went to public vote and passed, although, as the press’ posters stated, “76% of Los Angeles doesn’t know what the issue is about.” Perspectives among those that were invested in the charter campaign were mixed. Some thought the neighborhood councils had potential to democratize local government. Others felt that the reform campaign took the political bite out of the secession movement and didn’t go far enough to give people true legislative abilities.

Opinions and effects of the neighborhood council system remained varied during implementation. In some communities, power struggles emerged between institutions with lobbying power, such as chamber of commerces and neighborhood associations, and the neighborhood councils. In other communities where there had previously been fewer community institutions for representation, people hoped that their voices might finally be heard. Even now, the neighborhood councils are sites of disagreement. One enduring reason for criticism of neighborhood councils is that they are composed of unpaid elected members who volunteer their time to serve on the council, making them biased towards wealthier residents who can afford to dedicate time to a volunteer position. Consequently, neighborhood councils often exclude working class perspectives and are instead run by business interests who utilize the council platform to leverage their existing power. Some neighborhood councils have become drivers of gentrification for this reason. 

the butterfly effect

The neighborhood council in Lincoln Heights, a predominantly low-income, Latinx and Asian neighborhood just east of Downtown Los Angeles, has become one such site of contestation over the topic of gentrification. The USC Medical Center located in Lincoln Heights holds significant sway over the council and has the potential to influence land use decisions that could raise the already rising property values in the area and displace residents. But in the upcoming neighborhood council election, a slate of progressive residents, community organizers and advocates affiliated with the Facebook group “Lincoln Heights Intel” is running to ensure the council takes a hard anti-gentrification stance by advocating for community management of land, tenants’ rights and protections for unhoused people. While the results of this push have yet to be seen, it highlights the potential power of neighborhood councils to facilitate or prevent gentrification. 

Note: As of this publishing, the slate calling for land justice in Lincoln Heights swept the Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Council.

lincoln height neighborhood council is currently overseen by the landowning class in a community that is 69% renters.

In either case, Riordan and his money have permanently shaped Los Angeles politics. Riordan continues to leverage his millions to influence the political landscape of the city; he recently strained his already negative relationship with the Los Angeles Teachers Union further with a $1 million donation to an independent campaign to defeat LAUSD school board president Steve Zimmer, the candidate backed by the union. Riordan is no longer the subject of Naguals’ snipes, but their contestation of his power can be felt in other posters that question the consolidation of political power among private interests, like those that call out Councilmember Gil Cedillo and today’s mayor Eric Garcetti. Governance continues to be conducted without regard to the perspectives of poor Angelenos and Angelenos of color, always raising the question: Who owns the city?

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